She may have been the only girl on the team, but when fourth-grader Trinity Mikel stepped onto the football field, she was fearless.
The 9-year-old decided to mix up her usual activities of reading, dancing and homework last fall with a stint as linebacker on the Fresno Lions Youth Football team.
Passing by football practice one day, Trinity asked, "Hey, Mom, can girls join that?" Melissa Mikel recalls.
To which Mikel responded: "If you do this, you're not going to quit, because you're going to be part of a team."
But Trinity never thought of quitting. She learned the game, earned a spot in the starting lineup and was chosen as one of six All-Star players from a team of 25.
"She was just one of those players that we knew could do whatever we asked her," said coach Richard Rivera.
Mikel worried about her normally passive and laid-back daughter playing tackle football with a bunch of boys, but the roughness didn't faze Trinity. She said that when she got hit -- which happened a lot -- "it hurt, but I was OK."
Despite three practices a week and weekend games, Trinity maintained a 4.0 grade-point average at Manchester GATE and had a perfect score on a verbal reasoning test so challenging that it would stump most adults, said teacher Elaine Huene.
Trinity won't go back to football next year -- the fifth- and sixth-grade players are "really, really rough," she said. But she'll keep busy with Polynesian dance classes, helping her younger brother and sister with homework, and a backpack full of books to read. In addition to her school-assigned reading, Trinity is currently turning the pages of "The Magician's Nephew" from the "The Chronicles of Narnia" series.
Her thirst for reading may come in handy if she goes to medical school. Trinity said she wants to be a pediatrician, "because I could help children when they're sick."
More about Trinity
School: Manchester GATE
Parents: Robert and Melissa Mikel
Achievements: 4.0 GPA, High Honors, fourth-grade Word Master Wizard, Block M award for well-rounded students, Junior Girl Scout with Troop 450, chess club, alto singer with Manchester Melodies, volunteers to serve veterans and the homeless.
Fourth grade Honorable Mentions
ALEXIS BRAVO, 10, Parlier
School: Norseman Elementary, Fresno Unified
Parents: Timoteo and Eulalia Bravo
Achievements: Alexis is deaf, but his appetite for learning new words and mastering language is insatiable. "He has just got a drive in him that's fun to watch," said teacher Scott Holm, who nominated Alexis. Alexis plays with words and cracks jokes through sign language that entertain the entire class, said Holm. Alexis' progress is all the more remarkable because he is an English-learner -- his parents speak Spanish at home. Alexis has run more than 60 miles this year as part of a class running project and plans to log another 15 or so before the school year ends. He has a 3.0 GPA and was awarded Most Improved Reading, Outstanding Math, Outstanding Citizenship and Perfect Attendance for the first two quarters.
MADDY BAUER, 9, Fresno
School: Valley Oak Elementary, Clovis Unified
Parent: Samantha and Paul Bauer
Achievements: Maddy spends every holiday helping the hungry and homeless at Poverello House. She's raised money for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and volunteers to help her peers amicably work out their problems on the playground through a school mentoring program. "She goes out and helps," said teacher Raylene Moazamipour, who nominated Maddy. "She has a tender heart." Maddy writes articles for the school's GATE program, which publishes a community newsletter, is a top spelling-bee competitor and has a 4.0 GPA.
HALEY VALDEZ, 9, Kerman
School: Goldenrod Elementary, Kerman
Parents: Jaime and Elaine Valdez
Achievements: During her first year at Goldenrod, Haley decided to hold a bake sale to raise money for the library. The school opened this year, and "our library is sparse, very, very few books," said teacher and nominator Rick Araiza. "She just took it upon herself to have a bake sale and raised the money." Making and selling treats from home, Haley raised about $100 and delivered the money to the school. She was allowed to choose new books, and her picks included the classic series "Sideways Stories from Wayside School." Haley, an honors students with a 3.5 GPA, helped her class raise money for Children's Hospital Central California and donated socks to a local homeless shelter.
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